Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy (by StarbuckGuy)

The short story, Exit Strategy, by P.G. Holyfield, in the “Stories from Wolfram & Hart” series, was podcast today on Angel Between the Lines. I voiced the dialog for the character Johannes Cordner.

If you were a fan of the Angel show, I think you’ll like the story. P.G. told an interesting tale of heist and magic. If you’re not familiar with Angel, you will likely be able to follow the story anyway. Background: Wolfram & Hart is an evil law firm. I know, aren’t they all? But we’re talking dark evil — into the use of monsters, spells, dimension portals, and the black arts.

“The Answer” — Strangely Literal 075

I recently had the pleasure of reading the fan fiction story “The Answer” for the Strangely Literal podcast, Episode #075. It’s a beautifully written story based on the final episode of Dollhouse, Season One.

If you enjoy fan fiction, or simply like to have a story read to you, please drop by for a listen. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe to Strangely Literal in iTunes or the podcatcher of your choice.

ABtL: From Audition to Assignment, Pt. 2


[Return to Pt 1]

Once the thrill of being selected as a member of the general cast wore off a little, it was time to get to work. On the application that accompanied my audition recordings I had ticked the box that said I’d upgrade my microphone if I joined the team. For this I requested my son’s help, and he set me up with a Shure microphone on a heavy stand, an Edirol USB sound card for input and output, and he gave me a few tips on using the free sound software, Audacity.

Cast members are all required to assume more than an acting role and are offered various choices of areas they can help with, such as writing, sound mixing, special effects, artwork for the series, original music, podcasting about the series, and other forms of publicity. I chose writing and blogging. Not scripts for the show, but any small bits of writing I could contribute.

My first writing assignment was to write a radio commercial for Blue Sun Chinese Takeout, the food place that figures prominently in the first episode of Angel Between the Lines, “Curioser and Curioser.” So far it’s not been used, but I had fun writing it, and it made me feel part of the team. Next, several of us were given the group line, “To Lorne!” in Episode 1 — toasting Lorne with our drinks

The procedure is this: you record your line(s) three times, changing the delivery each time so the producers can pick the one that sounds best to them in the context of the story. There’s a specification for the type of MP3 file to create, and instructions on how to name it and where to ftp it. The producers and sound engineers then have the enormous job of putting it all together. I think I heard Tabz say once that there are over 100 people involved in a major episode, filling something like 200 roles. Some of the actors are also writers, producers, directors, or sound specialists.

The lead actors have a big show to record. Those of us in the general cast supply minor characters and crowds, where needed. In one of the episodes I play a dying demon. In another, a New York-raised “gansta.”

Some lines are recorded solo, and some are recorded in a group setting, via Skype. In the group sessions one member of the cast, always an experienced voice actor, is selected as director. The director listens for pacing, technical flaws such as poorly placed microphones, incorrectly delivered lines, and suggestions to specific actors on how they might improve their delivery. For novices like me, this is invaluable.

The whole operation works rather like an open-source software project. No one is paid, no one makes any money from the work, and Joss Whedon, who is aware of the series, has always been generous in allowing fans to write fictions based on his shows, as long as nothing commercial takes place that would violate copyright.

Angel Between the Lines will consist of 12 full episodes, plus extras. Extras include recorded feedback discussions about each episode, special smaller episodes, and some surprises. This season’s production, behind the scenes, has just passed the half-way mark, and, as mentioned, the first full episode, “Curioser and Curioser,” has been released. There is also a set of side stories called “Stories from Wolfram & Hart,” being written by some outstanding SF&F writers.

I hope, if you read this, that you’ll give the episode a try and, better yet, subscribe to the podcast, which will bring all the episodes and specials to your preferred audio device. As I said in Pt. 1, the young people who put this together are my heroes. It’s damned inspiring to see how they’ve taken fan fiction to such an incredibly sophisticated level, using the Internet to produce a new type of entertainment. Imaginative, creative, and wholly refreshing. Can you spell T-A-L-E-N-T? Kudos to the producers, writers, directors, actors, sound people, friends, supporters, and thanks to all of you who listen and provide feedback!

ABtL: From Audition to Assignment, Pt. 1


No one was more surprised than me when I became a voice actor. It’s not something I’d ever considered doing, though people have told me all my adult life that I had a good “radio voice” whatever that means.

What strange set of circumstances could lead a retired 64-year-old to become a voice actor?  A mix of curiosity, Joss Whedon, and the Internet. Plus my heroes: the young women and men who are using the Internet in creative, zestful, imaginative ways that could never have been foreseen when I was their age. It’s their story, really, but first I’ll trace how I found them.The tale begins with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My son’s girlfriend, K, mentioned how good Buffy was, and how great Joss Whedon is as a writer, director, and general creative talent. “Joss who?” I asked. She looked at me dumbfounded. “You don’t know Joss Whedon?” She then rattled off a bunch of his works that I’d likewise never heard of.

What can I say? I quit watching TV years ago, except for the occasional BBC mystery, and I’m not a movie buff. Still, I’m curious about things and thought that since I knew next to nothing about the pop culture of the past thirty years, perhaps I could try watching some of it, to see if I could relate.

The thing about K — she’s really smart. And she loves Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels as much as I do. She insisted that if I liked Terry Pratchett, I’d probably like Joss Whedon. That was the perfect sales pitch. I checked out Buffy Season One from the local library system (I didn’t want to pay for disappointment), and my wife and I watched the first couple of discs.

We were totally smitten. Totally grabbed by the concepts, relationships, snappy writing, excellent acting, and unfolding journey of growth and meaning. I returned Season One to the library and ordered the seven season box set from Amazon.

We tried to pace our viewing, but became so addicted we finished the entire seven seasons within a month.  Well, if Buffy was that good, perhaps we should check out Angel as well. Angel was a spin-off from the Buffy show and was also produced by Joss and his excellent core of writers and directors.

I purchased the box set of five seasons of Angel and we watched that too, in addition to watching all the way through Buffy a couple more times. At this point we had become entrenched in what fans refer to as the “Buffyverse” and, more broadly, the “Jossverse.”

Next, I heard a podcast — did I mention I love podcasts? — in which one of my favourite podcasters, Dr. Ginger Campbell (Brain Science Podcast, Books and Ideas Podcast), posted an interview with Tabatha Grace Smith. Tabatha Grace Smith (Tabz), along with Kim Butler, had created and founded an audio drama series called Buffy Between the Lines.

BBtL episodes are fan fiction (fanfic) dramas based on incidents that “might have happened” in the summers between the regular seasons of Buffy. Tabz, writer/producer, wrote the initial scripts for the series while Kim, co-producer, sought out the voice talent. Together they enlisted other writers, artists, actors, musicians, sound engineers, and directors who volunteered their time to create the episodes.

As Spike said on Halloween Night, “That’s just … neat!” so I immediately subscribed to the BBtL podcasts. I was amazed that a group of volunteers from around the world could use the Internet to create such good, imaginative, high-quality productions. I became a big fan of the podcast.

Another thing about the interview that stuck with me is that Dr. Campbell, a podcaster of very serious material, talked about the fun she’d had with a small role she’d acted in one of the episodes. I had an Oz “Huh!” moment. It never occurred to me that people without an acting background might voice some of the narrative.

Some time after that — last autumn in this universe — a BBtL season two podcast announced auditions for the next drama series: Angel Between the Lines. The announcement was friendly and encouraging and I wondered if I might be able to help out and participate in a bit-player kind of way.

After some reflection, I thought “Naw,” but when the deadline neared I changed my mind and thought “What the heck? Even auditioning would be kinda fun.” So I used a cheap headset mike to record the audition lines, trying out for “General Cast” which means crowd scenes, the odd dying demon, and such. I never expected to be selected.

Then the email arrived. I’d been selected as a member of the General Cast, and was given access to the schedule and the files. I was gobsmacked.

[Continue to Pt. 2]

My First Fanfic

It was probably inevitable that my affection for Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer would lead to first reading, then writing, fan fiction. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, fan fiction (or fanfic) is fiction written by fans about the characters that exist in books, movies, comics, or TV shows. These stories cannot be sold, of course. That would violate the copyright of the authors. They’re more tribute, wish fulfillment, or just imaginary takes. They’re written for fun, to be read for fun.

If the concept interests you, you need look no further than FanFiction.net, where you can find thousands upon thousands of such stories. Some very, very good, and some just awful. Everything in between. And something for everyone. There’s a lot of creativity taking place on sites like this. New stories pop up daily.

For Joss Whedon fans, there’s a particularly energetic podcast devoted to audio readings of Joss-based fan fiction. Called Strangely Literal, it’s one to subscribe to if you enjoy what’s called by fans, the Jossverse.

So where’s this leading? Yesterday I had an idea for a fanfic story based on Willow, the delightful Wicca who’s also Buffy’s best friend. Along with my morning coffee at Starbucks, I fired up T-Rex (my Palm TX) and folding keyboard, and dashed off a first draft of a story called “Willow in Detox.” I really enjoyed writing it, and later in the day I polished it up a bit then asked my friend Steve Brannon (host of The Way We Write) if he’d act as beta reader for the story. As usual, Steve’s eagle eye caught problems I’d never have noticed. Thanks Steve!

Feeling bold, I “published” the story on Live Journal: Willow in Detox. I’ve created an account on FanFiction.net and will likely send it there as well. If you’re familiar with the Buffy series, I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it. If you’re not familiar with Buffy, the story will be indecipherable.

Feeling even bolder, I sent the link to Tabz, the Joss lady who chooses stories for Strangely Literal, as well as being one of the key figures in the Between the Lines Studios productions. Tabz liked it and added it to the signup list of stories to be read (all done by volunteers).

So there you go. From inception to “publication” to “acceptance” in one day. The wonder of the Internet.

Summertime Blues

Sometimes I wonder, what am I gonna do
Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

— Eddie Cochrane

July already. The days grow shorter. Not that it’s noticeable, but in a few weeks my morning walks will be in closer alignment to sunrise. The sunset times don’t affect us much because Marion and I aren’t night people. Our routine after dinner is to snuggle on the couch and watch a rented video or one from our collection. We retire early and rise early.

It wasn’t always like this. During my youth and my student days I was a nighthawk. I slept late, unless there were classes, and I confess I slept through a few of those. I usually stayed active until 2-3am. I had friends who kept a similar schedule and we spent many an hour discussing the state of the universe, usually agreeing, by 3am, that it really WAS existential.

What knocked the nighthawk out of me was getting employment and having to be at work and productive in the morning. It never tamed me entirely. Even while working I stayed up until midnight or so. I’d get to bed early enough, but sleep was elusive. I read a lot of novels between 10-12.

But aging has changed my natural circadian rhythms. I’m now keeping farmer’s hours. Funny that. I would have thought my natural rhythms were hard-wired and wouldn’t change during my lifetime. Surprise!

The main aspect of my life this has affected is my reading. I’d developed a pattern of reading fiction late at night. Now when I try to read in bed, I last, at best, a page or two. I often wake with my reading glasses on and a book in my hand. It’s cut down the amount I read. When I try to read during the day I get fidgety and find it hard to keep my focus.

On the plus side, I’m catching up on pop culture movies and TV series. It started by my getting hopelessly addicted to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fortunately so did Marion. We then branched out to other Whedon productions: Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible. Angel was okay, and better than most of the fare on TV, but it never reached the quality of Buffy. Neither of us cares much for David Boreanaz as an actor, so it was hard to very excited about the series. If it weren’t for a great supporting cast, and a few very good episodes, we’d never have watched the entire series. Firefly was good, as was the follow-on movie Serenity. Dr. Horrible was funny, and clever. Dollhouse is disappointing. I was surprised to hear it was renewed for a second season.

In an effort to branch out to see other movies and TV series that we’d missed over the past thirty or so years, I’ve been asking friends to make recommendations. We’ve signed up with Zip.ca to rent titles from our wish list. Zip has most of the TV series I’m interested in.

I particularly like to see how a well-done TV series introduced its story and characters to the audience for the first time. That makes the season one, disc one offerings especially useful. I believe a budding fiction writer can learn a lot from good TV and movie productions.

Starting this month I’m going to start chronicling what we’ve been watching and which shows we really liked, or didn’t, and why. A couple of teasers: we’re loving Battlestar Galactica but couldn’t even get through the very first episode of Star Trek: Next Generation.

The difference between ‘in’ and ‘to’

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way !
O sisters let’s go down,
Let’s go down, come on down,
O sisters let’s go down,
Down in the river to pray.

“Down to the River to Pray” as sung by Alison Krauss in O Brother Where Art Thou?

This song, as sung by Alison Krauss, haunts me.  It’s a traditional hymn, and I’ve even seen thoughts that the tune might be Native American, from the Hupa Nation1. It’s one of those songs that, when it sticks in your head for days, you don’t mind. It’s beautiful.

But the word ‘in’ has bugged me for a long time. “Down in the river to pray.” I keep thinking, shouldn’t it be ‘to’? It doesn’t make logical sense, and even Alison Krauss titles it as “Down to the River to Pray.”

It’s an old southern hymn. Perhaps even an Underground Railroad song. I wonder, is the ‘in’ just a bit of illiteracy that crept in and stuck?

I tried singing it with ‘to’. It’s more logical, but it doesn’t sound as good or scan as well. It puts ‘to’ into the line twice, and it’s too many to’s. Despite the logic, it really sounds better as ‘in’.

So, I thought, needing to tidy this up in my mind, perhaps it’s a prayer offered up during the Christian rite of baptism — the total immersion kind where you go to the river and get dunked in the water and then pray.

There’s a certain logic to that. Baptism is a cleansing. A ritual that emerged from “one of those dusty countries,” to quote Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When you live in a dusty, dirty place, a dunking in the river undoubtedly takes on added significance, both spiritual and physical.

But, true to my agnostic leanings, I needed a better explanation to settle my word compulsion. And what I came up with is this: that the ‘river’ is the ‘stream of unconsciousness’ in the Jungian sense. From whence come our imaginations, mythologies, and symbols. The deep part of our being that we seldom perceive directly.

That river is one I can pray in. Yes. “Good Lord, show me the way.”

1 Musical Perceptions: Down to the River to Pray. See the comments.

Addicted to Whedon & Pratchett

Discworld_Companion (by StarbuckGuy)

I’ve touched on this before — I’m addicted to the productions of writer, director, and producer, Joss Whedon. I own the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, all seven seasons of Buffy (TV series), the complete Angel series, and as of today, the complete Firefly series and the subsequent movie Serenity. They arrived in my latest Amazon.ca order.

I’m on my second viewing of Angel and, as happened with Buffy, I’m enjoying it much more the second time around. Right now I’m in the very dark season two episodes where Darla has been turned (re-turned) into a vamp by Drusilla and the two are terrorizing LA. Wolfram & Hart are showing more and more of the depth of their evilness and Angel is driving away his friends, Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn. In fact he just fired them. I’m midway through the season, before their dimensional adventure takes them on a subplot where they find ‘Fred’.

It’s not the plots, which are a bit monster-of-the-week or adventure-of-the-week. They’re enjoyable, if you like SF&F. It’s the writing. Joss Whedon’s originality and freshness has been passed along to all the co-writers of the various series and, as a result, the episodes have the unexpected, surprising twists of dialogue, undercutting humour, and powerful character development and story arcs that flow from Whedon’s own pen. I’ve never encountered writing like this before in pop culture media.

I wasn’t sure I was going to purchase Firefly and Serenity after watching a borrowed version, but I finally convinced Trevor to watch Serenity with me (we often share our fave movies as father/son buddy time) and after viewing it he said, “You’re going to buy these, aren’t you?” That’s his stamp of approval — he’s acquired a considerable video collection of his favourite movies. Well … certainly I couldn’t let him down.

I added a paperback to the latest Amazon order to bring the threshold to the ‘free shipping’ point: The New Discworld Companion, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs. I’ve only dipped into it a little but it’s a delightful reader’s encyclopedia to the characters and elements of Discworld. Here’s the entry on Conina:

One of the daughters of Conan the Barbarian, and therefore genetically a barbarian heroine who, unfortunately, wants to be a hair dresser. A superb fighter, she carries a large number of concealed weapons, although absolutely anything she can get hold of — a hairgrip, a piece of paper, a hamster — is used as a deadly weapon.

Her hair is long and almost pure white, her skin tanned. She is a demure and surprisingly small figure. Although she inherits her looks from her mother, a temple dancer, she inherits from her father sinews you could moor a boat with, reflexes like a snake on hot tin, a terrible urge to steal things and a sensation that she should be throwing a knife at everyone she meets.

I see a strong connection between my addiction to Joss Whedon and my addiction to Terry Pratchett. Both, in my opinion, transcend the genres they write in, creating art.

Going Postal

Postal Delivery (by StarbuckGuy)

It was a bonanza day at the mailbox today. Two different shipments arrived — one from Amazon.ca and one from AbeBooks, my preferred online seller of used books.

The Amazon shipment included more Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett (now Sir Terry Pratchett), including the very funny Going Postal. My set of trade paperbacks is now complete, until TP publishes another. His latest novel, Nation, is one of his rare non-Discworld works.  In my re-reading of Discworld, in the sequence in which they were published, I’ve reached Maskerade.

There’s no single thing that attracts me to Pratchett’s fantasy series — sometimes called ‘comedic fantasy’, which is accurate as far as it goes. It’s zany, similar in spirit if not in style, to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It’s often funny in the way Joss Whedon scripts are funny — quick lines and understatements and unexpected juxtapositions.

Pratchett is also amusing, as well as thought provoking, as a social satirist. His thinly disguised sendups of the Gulf War, Christmas, opera, rock music, Shakespearean drama, and Hollywood, among other things, are all part of the fun.

He’s an interesting stylist too. His plot structures resemble a spiral more than anything else, and they’re not always easy to follow. He includes no chapter breaks — the books seemingly ramble about — but they always circle back toward the centre.

I find a great deal of wisdom in his novels. It pops up in the Night Watch books, the witch novels, the novels in which Death is the main character, and especially in the Tiffany Aching stories.

The reason I’ve collected all his novels is that I want to read and re-read them for years, the way I do with David Eddings’s Belgariad and Mallorean series, and the eternally delightful mysteries of Agatha Christie. When I need ‘comfort’ reading, these are the books I reach for.

The DVD of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog is something I’ve bought on faith. I’m not even certain what it is, but it’s by Joss Whedon and it’s had enthusiastic reviews. As I mentioned in my blog entry Things Joss Whedony, I’m addicted to the man’s creative productions.

The book Writing Creative Nonfiction is a followup to a posting on the newly-launched Creative NonFiction Writing Forums. It sounded interesting and instructive, and it wasn’t very expensive, so I simply indulged.

Le Petit Larousse Illustré, 1982 ed., is a used book I sought out after a conversation in Starbucks with a man who was reading Nietzsche in French translation. I posted on this on the Creative NonFiction Writing Forums:

While sitting in Starbucks this morning [January 18, 2009], working on my current blog entry and browsing some of my favourite forums, I was joined across the table by an older gentleman (about my age) I’ve seen in Starbucks previously.

As I finished up my work and was putting away my netbook, I happened to look at the book he was reading. It was a book by Nietzsche, in French (I didn’t quite catch the title). My curiosity overcame me and I asked him why he was reading Nietzsche in a French translation. His simple answer: he liked reading French.

I asked him how he’d got so good at reading French (he was clearly not a native French speaker). I don’t know what I expected — that he’d been assigned to the French Embassy at some time in his career, that he had a bohemian period in Paris, that he’d been a member of the Foreign Legion.

No, he just liked reading French. He told me he’d taken French in school but had forgotten most of it, but one day he picked up a book in French and decided to read it. At first, he said, he had to use a dictionary for almost every other word. But now he scarcely uses a dictionary at all.

The breakthrough, he told me, came when he got rid of his French-English dictionary and started using Le Petit Larousse, a French-only dictionary. He said the French definitions were very clear, and that the dictionary also provided synonyms and antonyms.

Interesting. My ability to read French was never particularly good, but it even that has atrophied through disuse. Worse, I even live in a bilingual English-French country (though I rarely encounter French other than on my cereal boxes).

It’s making me think perhaps I should get a Le Petit Larousse if I can find a used one, and try some Camus again. I always loved Camus as a stylist.

I sincerely admire people who do things like read French simply because they like it, and elect to read their Nietzsche in French. Kudos!

I once owned a version of this fine dictionary when I was studying French at university, and the conversation brought back memories of my enjoyment of it. It may be an undertaking like yet another started and failed diet, but I truly want to try to re-learn how to read French. I’ve always liked French, though I have a tin ear for learning languages. I’m going to try, or put another way, je l’essai (which I’m certain is terrible French).

Besides, it’s a beautiful book.

Le Petit Larousse Illustre 1982 (by StarbuckGuy)